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The neon "T" is lighting up Minneapolis' Whittier neighborhood once again. Little Tijuana (17 E. 26th St., Mpls.) could reopen as soon as June 16 for a new generation with a refreshed food menu of bar eats and playful cocktails from industry heavy hitters.

The new iteration of Little T's grew from the somewhat unlikely DNA of Petite Leon, the upscale neighborhood restaurant at 38th Street and Nicollet Avenue. That ownership group was formed with the idea that the restaurant would eventually serve as a jumping off point for other projects and talent. Now bar man Travis Serbus and chef Dan Manosack, both part owners, have brought longtime Tattersall talent Bennett Johnson into the fold, and the three are primed to open the best little dive bar in this corner of Minneapolis.

The ambience has changed in only the most necessary ways. Since 1962, the restaurant and eventual bar served hefty Tex-Mex food to generations of night owls, making the nights last a little longer and the mornings landing a little softer. It was among the many pandemic-related casualties.

At the updated version, a low-fi stereo behind the bar spins records and delivers chill vibes across the dining room. The carpet, a relic of somewhere in the 1960s, had to go, but the cowboy-chic has remained. There are twinkle lights on the ceiling, plenty of booths for sitting and a random cat picture salvaged from the basement hanging outside the bathroom doors.

On one side sits the bar, a somewhat crowded space that required these two drink creatives to scale back and get a little weird. "The size gives you guardrails," said Johnson.

A whirring slushy machine strives to produce Minneapolis' best piña colada, which arrives in a tall, curvy glass with a little Cynar float (the artichoke bitter liqueur complements the icy coconutty sweetness). There's also an amaro slushy that's an evolution of Fernet and Coke that's actually a Montenegro and Diet Coke served with a lime zest garnish. It's just the right kind of odd.

The drinks are without pretension, but that doesn't mean Serbus and Johnson don't have serious chops. Serbus created the exquisite drinks at Lyn65 and Johnson was one of the originals behind bar at Tattersall. Other drinks include a rather moist martini, a margarita with salt and togarashi on the rim and a completely reimagined Long Island Iced Tea. Nonalcoholic drinks are also on tap, including a cucumber tonic collaboration with 3Leches.

Meanwhile, Monosack has the bar food dialed in and the prices top out at $14 for a plate of pasta.

"We want to do for Little T's what it basically did for me — it kept me alive," he said. The dishes are a wander through his culinary career, where he went from an Apple Valley son of immigrants to a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef with an impressive resume.

His initial menu plan was to do a version of his popular Broken English pop-up, but the Little T's vibe required something a little broader. Instead, the menu winds through cultures and bar food he's loved. "Part Southeast Asian night market with State Fair food [trashiness]," he said.

That means pelmeni, inspired by Paul's Pelmeni in Madison, Wis., where he spent his late teens and early 20s working at the Edgewater. Little T's pelmeni are tiny dough dumplings like little potato-stuffed pillows topped with sour cream and a snappy chili crisp. A chopped cheese sandwich is inspired by New York's bodegas, and a proper steam burger hearkens back to his time at Gabe Rucker's Canard in Portland.

It's all bar food, but thoughtful. Rice crackers serve as the base for nachos covered in fresh herbs and spicy crispy bits, and crispy cauliflower is dressed up like irresistible little takoyaki. It's worth noting that much of the food happens to be vegetarian and gluten-free, and that the fryer will be dedicated gluten-free for those with sensitivities.

In the before times, Little T's was often a last stop after a night out. The restaurant and bar will still serve as that but will just close a 1 a.m. instead of 4 a.m. It will be open at 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays.

Hot on the heels of the news of an the upcoming food hall Eat Street Crossing, this part of town, right by MCAD and just off Eat Street, is looking lively.